So, you’re starting a company.
You have a category-defining concept. You know there’s an untapped market for it — customers will be throwing their money at you when they see how it will fulfill their unmet needs.
You’re ready to build. Problem is, you might not have a product background, so you’re unsure how to get started, what to look out for, or how this part of building a business works.
There’s an incredible amount of information out there about product management - from prioritization frameworks (ProductPlan lists 37(!) frameworks here) to Product Requirement Document (PRD) templates to backlog best practices. After leading product and design teams for 4 years at Modsy (on top of the 7 wonderful / hectic years in business development, growth, and product marketing roles at Calm, Foursquare, Rocket Fuel, and Bloom Energy), I wanted to share some of my own product tips and tricks to help you get up to speed just a tad quicker than…time and experience itself will take you.
First, a short list that you might have heard before:
And now, some less-preached insights:
This one is hard to grasp in the early days. You’re thinking, “All I’m asking you to do is move this screen from the x part of the flow to the y part of the flow. Why is that so hard?”
It’s so hard because of a million repercussions you may not have thought through yet - how this info is being saved to your backend database, how your event tracking will be affected, if the current code is so fragile that in order to make the change properly your engineer wants to refactor the entire flow, etc. etc. etc.
This isn’t to say development should drag. There needs to be a healthy push/pull and open communication between you as the product lead and your engineering lead, and work to continuously optimize time/effort estimations.
When there’s only a handful of people on the team, you might prioritize with a method as simple as brainstorming ideas and giving each person three votes to rank their favorites. As your company evolves, you might move to some form of RICE — which assesses Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort — to prioritize. My personal favorite for a company with 20 to 200 people is ICE, or Impact, Confidence, and Effort. Lightweight but still meaningful, and it worked for our team.
Do take a look at some well-designed sites (Current and Webflow come to mind) as well as those of your competitors to gain an understanding of common patterns, then incorporate what you like into your own.
In general, basic websites should include:
Please note how many times I said “simple” and “obvious.” Simple, simple, simple! Obvious, obvious, obvious! Take a step back and make sure you’re doing your company justice and explaining it in a way that any new visitor, aged 12 to 112, could easily grasp.
As long as you have a decent starting point, I recommend not spending too much time A/B testing your website in the early days. You won’t have the traffic to get meaningful results anyway. Instead, spend that time understanding your users and building them a product they love and will tell all their friends and colleagues about. That’s way more valuable than testing five vs. six onboarding screens in hopes of driving higher conversion. Organic growth is your goal here.
And when you think you’re finally ready to invest a little more in your site, take a look at our portfolio company Prometheus Fuels for inspiration.
As you think about the ‘status’ categories your tickets will move through, consider “backlog (not prioritized),” “not started,” “in design,” “in dev,” “in testing,” “ready for release,” and “done.” What worked for us at Modsy was for the product manager to be an owner of the ticket. As soon as you see it moved to “in testing,” you test when you have time. If there are issues, explain them in the ticket notes and move the status back to “in dev.” Only the product manager or final approver can move the ticket from “in testing” to “ready for release.”
Kristin (Stannard) Kent is a Principal at Expa and based in Los Angeles. Prior to joining Expa, Kristin amassed over 11 years of operating experience at venture-backed startups, most recently leading product and design teams at 3D home design company Modsy. She has also held growth, product marketing, and business development roles for startups Calm, Foursquare, Bloom Energy, and Rocket Fuel. She has a BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University.